At the end of last year the Sex Education Forum (SEF) celebrated 25 years since its launch in 1987. Over those last 25 years, the SEF has been instrumental in a number of key changes that have improved the provision of sex and relationships education (SRE) for young people, notably the inclusion of SRE in the national curriculum PSHE framework and the publication of guidance for schools.
The SEF’s strength is the consensus of their diverse membership of religious, educational, health, youth, family and disability organisations. However the uncertainty about the status of PSHE in the curriculum has created a vacuum that some have used as an opportunity to try and chip away at sector confidence.
At a time of increasing pressure on young people about sex and relationships it is more important than ever that they, and if possible, their families feel confident and safe talking about issues that trouble them and get support and advice.
The SEF therefore feels that schools and the wider community need a reminder of its core message – that all young people are entitled to quality SRE that equips them with the information, skills and values they need to have safe, fulfilling and enjoyable relationships and to take responsibility for their sexual health and wellbeing. To do this it has launched the Sex Ed Matters social media campaign.
That this issue is important to young people was reflected in the enthusiastic debate at the annual UK Youth Parliament in the House of Commons late last year when they voted for “a curriculum to prepare us for life” as their priority for 2013. It is also pleasing that SRE has recently been discussed in Parliament and advocated by politicians.
Particularly reassuring was the report The Morning After in December by the cross-political party inquiry into unplanned pregnancy, which recommended that the government should make SRE statutory.
This will allow for a more consistent and comprehensive programme to be implemented across the country, with clear guidelines for schools. But schools don’t need to wait; some are already teaching excellent SRE and working closely with pupils and families to make the learning relevant and appropriate. The green light is absolutely there for all schools to catch up with the best.
The general public, through the media, tends to talk about “sex education” and it is important that everyone understands what we mean when we say Sex Education Matters.
It matters because it is more than the biology bit, it is about relationships, emotions, and growing up. Young people want to explore what is healthy and unhealthy in a relationship, they want opportunities to discuss their views with their peers and to sort fact from fiction.
The classroom is a safe place to do this. What they don’t want is an STI or an unwanted pregnancy, but they must have information about where to get confidential help and support. Ultimately, they need us to help them to develop the capability to make decisions for themselves and to make sure they are offered support if they’re being pressured, or abused or exploited.
So when we talk about Sex Ed Matters we’re not just talking about sexual activity, we’re talking about all aspects of relationships, to keep young people safe. Schools should talk with young people about what they want and need so that we address the issues that concern them, not just the things we think they need.
Further informationTo get involved with the campaign, visit www.sexeducationforum.org.uk/policy-campaigns/campaigning-for-sre or follow it on Twitter @sex_ed_forum
Dr Hilary Emery is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk